A question of ownership

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Billy MacInnes reckons the channel is getting the best of both vendors and customers at a time of crisis

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Billy

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2 June 2021 | 0

You may remember that last week I looked at the issue of vendors that failed to be honest with customers about the effect of component shortages on their supply. Specifically, I suggested that this ‘strategy’ put partners in an invidious position because they were being used as conduits of misinformation to their customers.

When I say ‘their customers’ I’m talking about channel companies, not vendors. It’s a necessary distinction because the question of who customers ‘belong’ to can be a bone of contention between vendors and their partners. A cynic might say vendors are only too happy to claim them as customers when they’re buying and very quick to convert them into customers of their partners when anything goes wrong.

Anyway, with things going awry over semiconductor shortages in particular and their effect on supply at a time when demand for PCs and notebooks is surging, it was disappointing to see vendors being less than honest with customers about the issue. Particularly when they were prepared to be a little bit more forthcoming with partners over their problems.

 

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Essentially, the message seemed to be “we’re having supply issues but you can’t tell anybody”.

On the one hand, you could see that as a vote of confidence in channel partners and an acknowledgement of their value to the vendor because we’re all likely to tell people we trust something in confidence that we wouldn’t reveal to just anybody.

On the other, while it’s reassuring that partners are trusted enough to be given advance warning of problems, it’s a bit of a concern that customers are being kept in the dark. Especially when customers are encouraged to invest the same levels of trust in partners that vendors do in their channel.

So, in order to preserve their position of trust with vendors, partners are being asked to undermine their own trustworthiness with customers. I don’t know about you but to me that seems more like a breach of trust.

It’s reassuring, therefore, to find that a policy which doesn’t try to deny the reality of shortages but seeks to provide more honest and truthful information to channel partners and customers can be effective.

Here come the good times

Confirmation of the success of this approach comes in the Q1 market figures for PC shipments in Western Europe published by Canalys. The good news overall is that demand is surging with 16.1 million units shipped in the quarter, up 48% on the same period in 2020.

There is genuine optimism about the market going forward. “Ongoing bottlenecks around key components are delaying some orders,” Canalys notes, “but the supply chain is actually in much better shape than in Q1 2020, which saw sudden factory closures amid the first Covid-19 outbreaks.”

Supply is still a concern, however, as Canalys research analyst Tran Pham acknowledges. “While demand remains sky high, the question is can supply cope? Right now, the vendors that can fulfil orders the quickest will win.”

But it’s not just about how quickly you supply equipment, it’s also about how well you manage any shortages and delays. “In cases where shipment delays were inevitable, HP managed its channel well,” Pham states, “being transparent about shipment timings and giving assurances to customers, which discouraged them from seeking alternatives.”

And that’s the point. If you’re straight with people, they’ll wait. But if you tell them fairytales and they get exasperated and frustrated, they’ll look elsewhere. Channel partners relaying the information the vendor wants them to rather than the more accurate information the vendor has given to them can get caught in the crossfire. When that happens, it doesn’t matter whether the customer belonged to the vendor or the partner. The customer will soon belong to someone else.


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